One of Portland teachers’ top priorities from the beginning of bargaining has been to reduce class size. If you’ve been in a Portland classroom recently, you know our class sizes have grown out of control: Kindergarten classrooms with over 30 students, high school teachers with 180+ students.
Parents, students and teachers know that large classes are one of the greatest threats to a child’s education. They make it impossible for a teacher to give students the individual attention that is at the heart of quality teaching. That’s why Portland teachers wanted to make smaller class sizes a part of their contract negotiations. What was the School Board and Superintendent Carol Smith’s response? Not only did they refuse to talk about it during negotiations, they threatened to file a legal complaint against us if we brought it up again.
But teachers and parents can’t stay silent on this topic. Currently, high school teachers are regularly responsible for 180 students. The only reason they don’t have more is because the contract sets limits. What is one of the district’s top priorities? Eliminate these limits. There are only 29 words in the teacher contract preventing unlimited class size, and the district wants to delete every single word. At the same time, their contract proposal includes an effective pay cut for teachers, and removes many other provisions that protect the classroom experience.
The Board and Superintendent claims they will do their best to reduce class sizes without the limits. But experience shows that unless it’s in a legally binding agreement, the School Board too often goes back on its word. That is why teachers sought to add language to the contract to ensure the district keeps its word. The fact that the School Board wants to remove this contract language tells you all you need to know about their intentions.
Even more disturbing: the District’s million tax-dollar aggressive approach against teachers has created a dangerous threat to our entire school system: it unilaterally called off negotiations, and is now just days away from declaring an impasse. Within a month of that they can impose a draconian contract that gives teachers only two choices: accept an unacceptable contract or strike. And the School Board members’ actions give every indication that they intend to force a strike that would be devastating to teachers, students, families and the future of Portland Public Schools.
This is not the way to improve our schools. And it’s not the way we do things in Portland. It’s time to work together. Sign this petition to tell the School Board and Superintendent Smith to keep talking to teachers and not force a strike.